Climate change threatens maize output

The government says maize production is under threat from climate change and the emergence of pests calling for production of different maize varieties.

BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA

Speaking at the Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project annual meeting yesterday in Harare, Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement minister, Perrance Shiri said climate change has brought increased frequencies and severity of drought conditions, bouts of heat spells, and uncertainties in the length and quality of growing seasons.
“… these elements threaten the production of our staple crop,” he said in a speech read on his behalf by acting principal director in the department of Research and Specialist Services in the Agriculture ministry, Joseph Sikhosana.

“Without measures to counter climate change, the food security of our people on the continent is compromised. One of the measures to combat climate change in agricultural production is with seed of climate resilient crop varieties that withstand drought and heat stress, offering protection against the emergence of new diseases and pests.”
In January, the Food and Agriculture Organisation found that prolonged dry spells, erratic rainfall, high temperatures and the presence of the voracious fall armyworm significantly dampened Southern Africa’s agricultural season’s cereal production prospects.

The Agricultural Technical and Extension Services reported last month that the fall armyworm, that spread to all the country’s province in the last season, infested nearly 150 000 hectares of food crop, with maize being the most vulnerable.

The US Agency for International Development’s early warning system, Fewsnet, reported that, while widespread rains occurred in February and March across most of the country, especially in the north, it was not enough to boost yields for crops that survived the extended dry spells in December and January.

The STMA projects annual meeting is hosted by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre in partnership with International Institute of Tropical Agriculture to find ways on crop varieties, specifically maize. The annual meeting ends tomorrow and has drawn delegates from Mali, Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe Seed Trade Association president and Seed-Co regional managing director Zimbabwe and Southern Africa, Denias Zaranyika said although there was no silver bullet that could fully protect crops against pests, diseases and extreme weather, climate smart seed was still needed.

“Climate smart seed has the potential to reduce the impact of extreme weather conditions, but it cannot eliminate it. While improved seed alone cannot solve all the maize production challenges that farmers face, it is an important game changer,” he said.

“Improved seed, therefore, offers the cheapest way for farmers to adapt to climate change because farmers can immediately use the seed without any need for additional training and it is scale neutral. This means that it can be used with the same efficiency on big or small farms alike. It will also not be amiss to say good seed is gender neutral, meaning that both men and women can use the seeds with comparable and consistent results.”